Is Peak Oil a Lie?

At the Cleantech Forum this week in Washington, DC, prominent futurist Peter "Long Boom" Schwartz argued before a packed room of investors that peak oil is wrong. He claimed that the Earth would not be running out of oil any time soon, and that people who use the idea of peak oil to motivate the production of alternative energy are going to wind up screwing the Earth over in the end. Schwartz, who has consulted with oil companies as well as the SciFi Channel, is a master at creating plausible future scenarios for companies and government organizations trying to determine their long-term strategies. He pointed out that peak oil is difficult to determine realistically:

The peak oil people simply don't know what they're talking about, they don't know the facts . . . We really don't know how much oil there is in most of the oil reservoirs of the world. Oil reservoirs are complex geological structures, and most of the data is in private hands, or in state governments, and they are not particularly forthcoming about how much is there.

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While his argument sounds like he's being an apologist for oil companies or businesses that want to ignore emissions limits, in fact he's taking a more radically green stance than many peak oil advocates. He's saying, essentially, that we may be nowhere near peak oil, and that we nevertheless need to act now to create greener technologies and foster alternative power sources. Peak oil should not be our argument against oil, he says. Rather, climate change should be:

We are not going to run out of oil before the issue of climate change drives change. It'll be costly oil. But it'll be climate change catastrophes [such as sudden, unexpected displacement of large numbers of people, and massive property damage], and more expensive oil, not the fact that we're running out of oil, that will drive change.

His point, though polemical and brash, is nevertheless a subtle one. He's basically saying that peak oil is a kind of rhetorical strategy. And it's doomed to fail, he thinks, because it's not based on truth. Or at least, not on a truth that can be easily proven. Therefore, he's suggesting that we come up with a new motivating strategy for companies planning their long-term futures in terms of energy investment. Don't try to convince those companies to go green based on tenuous arguments about something unprovable like peak oil. Base it on science that has a more solid basis, such as the studies that demonstrate climate change is happening right now. Photo by David McNew/Getty Images. Peak Oil "Wrong," Says Schwartz [via Cleantech]

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